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Late 19th Century Bozeman Basement Brothels

Like a lot of western towns, Bozeman, Mont. had a booming red light district in the late nineteenth century, filled with brothels and madams.

Two different brothels were operated in Bozeman by 1880, one with white prostitutes and the other with Chinese, some as young as thirteen-years-old. Chinese girls as young as six-years-old were trafficked to the U.S. in large boxes. They lived in the basements of brothels in rooms barely big enough for a bed. The rooms were often used as opium dens.

Efforts to shut down the brothels and opium dens, such as the Carnegie Library in 1903-1904, were led by organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The library’s funding was from Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish American industrialist.

Bozeman’s first madam was also one of the most prominent. In 1874 Louisa Couselle moved her business from Helena to Bozeman to take advantage of the growing male population in the 1870s. This boom was due to the Northern Pacific Railroad’s construction as well as men stationed nearby at Fort Ellis. Prostitutes would lure cowboys, miners and businessmen into the brothels.

Couselle’s financial success allowed her to purchase 15 lots total. These served as a starting point for the thriving industry, which was located just north of Main Street between North Rouse and North Bozeman Avenues. Couselle is listed as one of 59 “heavy tax payers of Gallatin County,” paying $194 in taxes.

Couselle also extended generous mortgages to former employees. One such employee, a madam named Kitty “Roberta Warn” Warren, later bought nearby properties thanks to financial help from Couselle.

Warren died in a burn accident in 1885. She was 25 years old. Couselle died the following year at age 54, leaving behind a remarkably valuable estate worth $20,000.


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